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Introduction In a celebrated phrase Dante praises Aristotle as “master of those who know.” Aristotle would be happier, I believe, described as “master of those who desire to know.” Aside from the fact that those who already know have no need of a master, Aristotle was convinced that as humans we can never master all there is to be known about ourselves and our place within the cosmos. As teacher and philosopher he was himself characterized by a perpetual spirit of investigation. In this, as in many other respects, Alasdair MacIntyre is a true follower of the Greek master: his philosophical work is imbued with the impetus for renewed exploration. There is no such thing as a MacIntyrean philosophy, only the MacIntyrean practice of seeking groundbreaking answers. Over decades he has struggled with real questions and, like Socrates, has relentlessly followed the questions wherever they have taken him. MacIntyre’s inquiry has led him to visit various schools of thought, framing different periods of his career: analytic, Marxist, Christian, atheist , Aristotelian, Augustinian, and Thomist. John Haldane, in a lecture honoring Alasdair MacIntyre at the Royal Irish Academy, remarked that these stages are unified by a perennial honesty and deep humanism: “His fundamental sensibility to what is central and profound in human affairs is expressed first, by fascination with the products of human thought and action, especially as these reveal the characteristics of particular cultures and traditions; second, by sympathy and admiration for human achievement , be it intellectual, moral or, in the broad sense spiritual; and third, 1 by a desire to understand these achievements from the ‘inside’ as an engaged participant.” MacIntyre’s interest has been first and foremost in moral philosophy, and his influence has been far-reaching. His most famous book, After Virtue , laid bare the inconsistencies inherent in the conflicting ethical systems that were born of the Enlightenment and that have for the most part shaped current social and political values. The common error, argued MacIntyre , was the failure to adequately ask the most basic of all questions: What is it to be a good human being? It is rare that a single work provokes such radical self-interrogation in equal measure across widely diverging theories of moral philosophy. For his own part, MacIntyre invited readers to rediscover with Aristotle the centrality of the virtues as concretely exemplifying the goals and practices of the good life. As with Aristotle, MacIntyre’s interests and influence extend to the entire range of human activity. Without sacrificing the autonomy of philosophy , he can accommodate the truth implicit in Marx’s challenge that the point of philosophy is not only to variously interpret the world but also to change it. Philosophy must be true to itself—to its inquiring spirit—and never become subservient to a practical agenda; but it must also inspire human agents to be true to themselves in the search for concrete personal goods. MacIntyre has thus been concerned with questions fundamental to all human agents and the customs that form societies and communities. His influence has extended beyond academic philosophy to political theory, economics, business, and management. University College Dublin’s professor of banking has prescribed After Virtue as mandatory reading; he recommended attendance at a public lecture to his students with the words: “MacIntyre is one of the Greats—you will not see his like again.” The contribution of Alasdair MacIntyre to contemporary philosophy is enormous. His academic scholarship has spanned more specializations and numbered more books and articles—over 250 in all—than many scholars could hope to match in eight lifetimes, let alone in eighty years. One thinks of the eleventh-century poem “Colmcille the Scribe,” in Seamus Heaney’s version: “Wisdom keeps welling in streams . . . / Through books through thick and thin / To enrich the scholar’s holdings.” In his writings Alasdair MacIntyre has emphasized the importance of tradition. He himself grew up at the confluence of two traditions, inhabiting on the one hand the world of his Gaelic heritage and on the other the 2 WHAT HAPPENED IN AND TO MORAL PHILOSOPHY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY? world of modern liberal rationalism. His imagination fed upon the Gaelic oral culture of farmers and fishermen, poets and storytellers, whose values were embedded in the narratives of kinship and place. These were challenged by the claims of universal rational humanity, which relied upon the liberal ideas of Kant and Mill. This tension between opposing systems and versions of morality would characterize MacIntyre’s intellectual...


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